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At the start of the season, media and fan opinion were, for once, almost completely in agreement. The consensus was that the Habs would be life and death to make the playoffs because they lost both Andrei Markov and Alexander Radulov to free agency and the defence lacked puck-moving defencemen. Through the first 21 games, the Canadiens were below even those minimal expectations. While their recent play has been better, there were many nights early in the season where they looked lifeless. Blowing a lead to the Arizona Coyotes to allow the desert dwellers to skate to their first regulation victory of the season was a low point that left many questioning both management and players.

Players must have played in at least five games to receive a grade.

Brendan Gallagher A: Gallagher has had a tough couple of seasons after having his hand smashed by Johnny Boychuk and Shea Weber slapshots. Despite the not unexpected drop in production, his effort and intensity never wavered. This season we are seeing the Gallagher of old as he is close to matching his production from 65 games last season after only 21 games. The team was awful in the first quarter, but it is painful to even consider what it would have been like without a resurgent Gallagher.

1st Quarter Stats: 21 GP, 8 goals, 5 assists, 13 points, -2 rating, 12 PIMS, 56 shots, 12.7 sh%

Jonathan Drouin A-: Drouin has come in for some criticism as his production has not been as high as some fans and pundits thought it might be. Here we have a young, high-profile player dealing with a position switch in hockey-crazed Montreal and despite his mightily impressive efforts he is still negatively compared to the player he was traded for Mikhail Sergachev who is scoring more points in sheltered minutes with Tampa Bay. I think Drouin is handling a very difficult situation very well and that his production will balloon once he gets more comfortable. In addition, his minuscule 5.2% shooting percentage will certainly improve. I can’t help but think he would be better already if he was playing wing.

1st Quarter Stats: 20 GP, 3 goals, 10 assists, 13 points, -7 rating, 4 PIMS, 58 shots, 5.2 sh%

Max Pacioretty A-: Once again, Pacioretty is on the receiving end of an enormous amount of criticism in Montreal. I have never seen or heard of such a consistent scorer who is also an excellent penalty killer be so disrespected. Much of the heat is undeserved and Pacioretty is almost certain to improve on his wretched 6.7% shooting percentage and score his usual 30+ goals. If he is moved it should only be for a package superior to what Colorado received for Matt Duchene. When he eventually does leave, he may finally get the respect he deserves.

1st Quarter Stats: 21 GP, 7 goals, 5 assists, 12 points, +11 rating, 10 PIMS, 60 shots, 7.1 sh%

Andrew Shaw B: Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that Shaw will ever produce the offence that his contract merits but he remains a sandpaper player who constantly irritates and disrupts the opposition.

1st Quarter Stats: 21 GP, 4 goals, 5 assists, 9 points, -9 rating, 22 PIMS, 44 shots, 9.1 sh%

Phillip Danault B-: Danault has maintained the steady defensive play he exhibited since being acquired and has developed real chemistry with Pacioretty even though they haven’t played together a lot this season until lately. His only issue is that he is not a second line centre on a team with any real depth, but he would be outstanding in his proper role.

1st Quarter Stats: 21 GP, 3 goals, 5 assists, 8 points, -8 rating, 6 PIMS, 48 shots, 6.3 sh%

Paul Byron B-: As I do nearly every time I write a ranking I considered giving Byron a higher grade (and remember, the cut-off was Game 21). His outstanding speed, Gallagher-like grit and underrated hockey sense really appeal. Despite bouncing up and down the lineup he has still produced. He is perhaps the Canadiens best waiver wire pick up ever.

1st Quarter Stats: 21 GP, 3 goals, 5 assists, 8 points, even rating, 15 PIMS, 31 shots, 16.7 sh%

Tomas Plekanec C+: Tomas is still playing excellent defence and has largely shut down the oppositions’ top players as usual. He is also consistently above average in the faceoff circle. For $6 million per year the Habs need more offence, but it unlikely that this excellent two-way forward with the unfortunate contract will be able to deliver it.

1st Quarter Stats: 21 GP, 3 goals, 5 assists, 8 points, +2 rating, 15 PIMS, 45 shots, 6.7 sh%

Alex Galchenyuk C+: Alex has been the topic of intense trade scrutiny since last season. The team refuses to play him at centre and at one point his lackadaisical defence got him dropped to the fourth line. It is too bad that Montreal chose to devalue this asset with public criticism. A questionable strategy if they hope to get back the return his potential merits.

1st Quarter Stats: 21 GP, 4 goals, 5 assists, 9 points, -9 rating, 22 PIMS, 44 shots, 9.1 sh%

Charles Hudon C+: Hudon has shown the speed and hustle that most were expecting along with a somewhat unexpectedly physical style. Given his excellent hands, his minuscule shooting percentage will improve along with his production.

1st Quarter Stats: 20 GP, 2 goals, 5 assists, 7 points, +2 rating, 15 PIMS, 56 shots, 3.6 sh%

Artturi Lehkonen C: Lehkonen has struggled offensively this season before he got hurt. It might be the dreaded sophomore slump or it may be that his offensive game from the Swedish Elite League may never manifest on the smaller North American ice.

1st Quarter Stats: 18 GP, 2 goals, 3 assists, 5 points, -4 rating, 4 PIMS, 47 shots, 4.3 sh%

Jacob de la Rose C-: Excellent hockey since, good skater and no offensive ability at all. I like the player but surely Bergevin can find a fourth liner with a smidgen of offensive upside? 

1st Quarter Stats: 12 GP, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 points, -4 rating, 4 PIMS, 8 shots, 0 sh%

Torrey Mitchell D: Mitchell’s scoring touch deserted him and was not overly physical.  The opportunity for ice time was there but he didn’t take advantage of it before getting traded.

1st Quarter Stats: 10 GP, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 points, even rating, 2 PIMS, 8 shots, 0 sh%

Byron Froese D: Froese played the minimum five games required for a ranking. He seems okay defensively and on the forecheck but there is nothing to suggest that he might actually score in the NHL this season.

1st Quarter Stats: 5 GP, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 points, 0 rating, 0 PIMS, 4 shots, 0 sh%

Michael McCarron D-: Despite the utter lack of production from the fourth line, “Big Mac” has been unable to work his way back up to the NHL. Hopefully, the greater role and ice time in Laval will allow him to improve his skating and overall game.

1st Quarter Stats: 8 GP, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 points, 0 rating, 10 PIMS, 4 shots, 0 sh%

Ales Hemsky: F: With no goals and twice as many penalty minutes (10) as shots on goal (5), Hemsky seemed to be done – even before his concussion.

1st Quarter Stats: 7 GP, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 points, -1 rating, 10 PIMS, 5 shots, 0 sh%